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NDP Fisheries Critic Takes Harper Government to Task Over Leaked Changes to Fisheries Act

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Posted March 13, 2012 by Damien Gillis in Politics
NDP Fisheries Critic Fin Donnelly
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Federal NDP Fisheries Critic Fin Donnelly took the Harper Government to task in Question Period earlier today over its plan to slip significant changes to the Fisheries Act into its omnibus bill. The changes – leaked yesterday to retired senior DFO scientist and manager Otto Langer – would water down key habitat protections contained in section 35 of the Act.

Donnelly raised the matter in Ottawa today, stating, “It appears the Conservatives are planning to bury sweeping changes to the Fisheries Act in the upcoming budget. The Minister uses the word ‘modernize’. But removing habitat protection from the Fisheries Act will set Canada back decades. The Minister must come clean. Is the Minister planning to change Section 35 of the Fisheries Act in the next budget? Is the plan to eliminate the protection of fish habitat in Canada and effectively gut the law? Yes or no?”

Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Keith Ashfield responded, “Of course, there’s been absolutely no decision made with regard to this issue. I’ll note that Canada is blessed with an abundant array of natural resources, of which we should be proud and which we take seriously and responsibly to conserve and protect.”

In a statement published earlier today by The Common Sense Canadian, veteran fisheries scientist Otto Langer – who first raised alarm bells over the proposed changes – explained:

I have just been leaked a confidential copy of proposed changes to the habitat provisions of the Fisheries Act as directed by the political levels within the Harper Government. The government is totally re-writing the habitat protection provisions of Section 35(1) so as to remove habitat protection out of the Fisheries Act. This is a serious situation and will put Canada back to where we were in the pre 1976 period where Canada had no laws to protect fish habitat and no way to monitor the great industrial expansion that occurred in Canada with the consequential loss of major fish habitat all across Canada.

The amendments to section 35 revolve around two key policy changes. The first seeks to divide fish into two separate classes – those which are “important” and deserving of protection and those which are not. The new act would read, “No person shall carry on any work, undertaking or activity, other than fishing, that results in an adverse effect on a fish of economic, cultural or ecological value.(emphasis added).

Mr. Langer expressed his concerns about this important change: “What is a fish of economic, cultural or ecological value? If is has no economic value, can it now be needlessly destroyed? This newly drafted provision is not intended to protect fish habitat in any manner whatsoever.”

The second key change is the removal of the word habitat from this section of the Act altogether. Mr. Langer notes, “The lack of mention of ‘habitat’ in the proposed draft law and the number of subjective and ambiguous words inserted into this major amendment will make any enforcement of this new law very difficult.

Fisheries Critic Donnelly is concerned these changes are designed to clear the way for industrial projects favoured the Harper Government. In a press release following the above exchange in the House, he stated, “The Conservative government is systematically dismantling environmental protection and regulation. By eliminating provisions to protect fish habitat, they can push through their agenda of pipelines, oil super tankers, mega mines and other projects that harm the environment.”

The issue has attracted significant attention in the media and environmental community today, adding yet another controversy to the Harper Government’s omnibus bill.

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About the Author

Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.

5 Comments


  1.  
    Debbie

    I’ll be waiting for the immediate full enquiry into how this info was leaked. This kind of leak can’t continue and the Cons will need to get to the bottom of it just as they have done with that nasty person who started the Vic Toews expose rolling. Frankly, I’d love to be able to give him an Order of Canada but hey, that’s just me wishful thinking.
    Now the poor old Harperites will need to figure out how to sweep this info under the rug as they have tried to do with the Robocalls. Never mind, they can count on Sun News to help them out of this dilemma. Oh and about those fighters….




  2.  
    Audrey Wild

    The Canadian government needs to be a steward of our natural resources in terms of wildlife and habitat. Commercial and industrial activities are never important enough to override government responsibilities in preserving our environment.




  3.  
    Rob

    This change and the way that they are trying to implement it worries me, this stuff should be done up front and out in the open not behind closed doors and buried under other paperwork!!!




  4.  
    Hugh

    This proposed change of Sec 35 is highly problematic, basically saying adverse effects are ok if authorized:

    “The proposed new subsection 35(1) of the Fisheries Act is as follows:

    35(1) No person shall carry on any work, undertaking or activity, other than fishing, that results in an adverse effect on a fish of economic, cultural or ecological value.

    (2) No person contravenes subsection (1) if

    (a) the adverse effect is authorized by the Minister and is produced in accordance with the conditions established by the Minister;

    (b) the adverse effect is authorized by a person prescribed by the regulations and is produced in accordance with the conditions prescribed by the regulations;”





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